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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Meets With COVID Response Team As Omicron Surges; NYC Mayor: Safest Place For Kids Right Now "Is In A School Building"; Icy Mess Strands Virginia Drivers Overnight On I-95 With No Food Or Water; Sources: January 6 Committee Wants Info From Fox Host Sean Hannity; NATO To Hold "Extraordinary" Meeting And Russian Military Buildup On Ukrainian Border; Judge Says Decision Soon On Prince Andrew's Request To Dismiss Sex Assault Case Linked To Jeffrey Epstein. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired January 04, 2022 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The commute from a snow -- snowy hell. Twenty- four hours in a car barely moving 24 feet.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Thousands stuck and stranded on a busy Virginia interstate. Some with babies and dogs. No food or water. And quickly running out of gas, if they haven't already. How did this happen?

Music to the ears of a lot of parents. President Biden today proclaiming that schools should be open as the CDC is about to make yet another change to its isolation guidance.

And, the Zoom call to stop a possible war. We'll take you inside a pending global alliance meeting hoping to stop Vladimir Putin's invasion itch.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we start today with the health lead. A powerful message this afternoon from President Joe Biden, an ally of teachers unions, nonetheless saying that they need to keep schools open amid the push by some teachers unions to return to remote learning. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have no reason to think at this point that omicron is worse for children than previous variants. We know that our kids can be safe when in school, by the way. That's why I believe schools should remain open.


HANNITY: Those remarks come as pediatric hospitalizations are the highest they've ever been during the pandemic, especially almost entirely among unvaccinated kids. Children, according to the CDC, are the least vaccinated age group in the United States. Those younger than 5, of course, still not eligible for a vaccine. Let's get right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny live at the White House.

And, Jeff, Biden's message today was, be concerned about omicron, but do not be alarmed.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it was. And this was -- he was attending his first formal COVID briefing of this New Year. And he bluntly acknowledged what's become obvious, that omicron cases are rising and he said they will continue rising for the next several weeks. He also acknowledged the frustration that is really bubbling up toward this administration and a lack of testing. He said he feels it and you could hear it in his voice.


BIDEN: I know this remains frustrating. Believe me. It's frustrating to me. But we're making improvements. In the last two weeks, we've stood up federal testing sites all over the country. Look, with more capacity for in-person tests, we should see waiting lines shorten and more appointments freed up.


ZELENY: Now, Jake, it was only a year ago when President-elect Biden blasted the Trump administration's testing policy as a travesty. Now many allies and critics are saying similar things for this administration. Of course, many things have changed. There are now at- home tests, if you can get your hands on one, and many things have changed.

But one thing the administration is still trying to work on right now are those half a billion tests the president promised to be out in January. The contracts are now being secured. They'll likely be signed by the end of the week but there is no guarantee that those will be available to be sent out this month, perhaps at the end of the month or beginning of next month.

So, Jake, for all that's going on, testing remains one of the central challenges of this administration. The president said so today himself.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

In New York, the city's new mayor says he'll not feed into the, quote, hysteria around the rising COVID case numbers after he rejected the city's largest teachers union's request to temporarily move to remote learning. As long as vaccines, masking, ventilation and testing are all part of the education process, medical experts do agree there is a steep price to keeping kids out of the classroom -- as CNN's Alexandra Field reports.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK: We cannot feed into hysteria. This is traumatizing our children. ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing an

unprecedented COVID surge, New York City's new mayor insisting schools really are the safest place for children.

ADAMS: We have to reshape our thinking of how do we live with COVID?

FIELD: The vast majority of schools throughout the country are pressing on and keeping students in the classroom.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: What we've learned over the past two years is that there's significant risk to keeping children out of school.

FIELD: But, according to the data company Burbio, more than 3,200 schools are going remote or delaying returns from winter break. L.A. unified school district, the latest to push back its start date by one day and require proof of a negative test.

In Chicago, the powerful teachers union is threatening a walkout over decisions to bring students back to the classroom.

STACY DAVIS GATES, VICE PRESIDENT, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION: Contact tracing and vaccination efforts by her administration have been an abject failure.

FIELD: Across the country, pediatric hospitalizations are still rare but now at a record high, spurring questions over whether children are being hospitalized for COVID or with COVID, as well as questions about the impact of omicron on children.

DR. EDITH BRACHO SANCHEZ, PRIMARY CARE PEDIATRICIAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, IRVING MEDICAL CENTER: Now those children, did they show up because they had a broken leg or broken arm and happened to test positive for COVID versus did they show up because they had trouble breathing because of COVID-19?


I think we would be foolish to keep minimizing COVID-19 in children at this point in the pandemic.

FIELD: Overall, hospitalizations nationwide surpassing 100,000 for the first time since September.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: When I talk to doctors in the emergency room in my colleagues who are in hospitals in the country, they continue to emphasize that the people they are seeing who are hospitalized are primarily those who are not vaccinated.

FIELD: The sheer volume of cases coming with dire consequences. One in 5 hospitals with an ICU, that's more than 700 hospitals, reporting that at least 95 percent of ICU beds were full last week, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In Massachusetts, doctors and nurses are sounding alarm bells with an urgent appeal. We are overwhelmed. Your emergency departments are at a breaking point. The strain on testing continues to be a problem, too. Ohio turning to

its National Guard for help while Florida's surgeon general offers a new approach. What he calls high value testing, prioritizing those most at risk.


FIELD (on camera): And, Jake, we have now hit another pandemic record. This time the highest number of COVID cases among children. Some 325,000 children testing positive for COVID last week. That's up about 64 percent from the week prior. The American academy of pediatrics calling this an alarming increase and saying there's urgent need for more date on the impact of COVID on children -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alexandra Field, thank you so much.

Let's bring in chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you just heard President Biden say he wants schools to stay open. New York City Mayor Eric Adams makes a compelling case for keeping kids in schools as well. Take a listen.


ADAMS: It's a luxury to say, stay at home, when you have all the tools that you needed. But for poor black, brown children that you don't have access to some of the basic things, school is the best place for you, and I'm going to continue to have my children be in a safe environment that all science is saying is the best place for them.


TAPPER: Does the science say the best place for kids is in school?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's one of the safest places in society. Other than just being at home in a home where you know COVID does not exist.

Other than that, you know, schools, if they have certain things in place, as was just mentioned, including testing and Test to Stay programs, there's a good data around that. Now, masking, universal masking, good ventilation, things like that, you can -- you can argue that schools are one of the safest places to stay and obviously the down sides of not being in school.

The one thing I will say, Jake, is that we are still in the middle of a very significant viral storm. So, this way this plays out is that, you know, they'll be testing but you may be getting a lot of positive tests. And as a result of that, you may have -- you may have shortages of faculty and things like that because of just how much virus there is out there and how contagious it is.

TAPPER: Right. So, so let's talk about this. Masking is important. Vaccinations for everybody eligible, that's important. Better ventilation if possible and then testing. Is there anything more that schools can do to make schools even safer,

assuming they're doing those four things, and I don't know that every school is, but assuming they are, is there more that can be done so teachers and faculty can feel comfortable about schools staying open?

GUPTA: Those are clearly the big ones. We've seen some school districts that started going in a bifurcated schedule to cut down on the number of people in the building at any given time, the less population density, the safe as well, that gets into issues of ventilation also.

But those are the big things. And, you know, as we've known even pre- omicron, if you have those things in place, you can arguably create a very safe environment.

TAPPER: So there's a veteran friend of mine and he lives in a rather impoverished part of the country and he has a kid who is immunocompromised. The school district apparently does not have the ability to provide options for the immunocompromised kids so he has to keep all his kids at home.

There needs to be options for immunocompromised kids, right?

GUPTA: Yeah, I think so. I mean, this is one of those situations where even when we go back and talk about herd immunity, the concept of herd immunity was for the herd to protect the vulnerable. So you're describing someone who is vulnerable in this situation because of their underlying conditions.

Right now, it's a tough situation because there is just so much virus out there that it's a real risk, a higher risk. The numbers will come down at some point maybe even over the next few weeks. But because of the significant storm of virus everywhere in the country, it's tough to create as many options.

Ultimately, you'd like to have the booster available to someone like your friend's son and also the idea of significant amount of vaccinated people around them.

TAPPER: Dr. Leana Wen came out with a new op-ed today. She says the price for shutting down schools and workplaces is too steep. She writes, quote, the tsunami of viral transmission means that many vaccinated people will have breakthrough infections, but the vast majority will have symptoms between a mild cold and the flu.


As a result, it's unreasonable to ask vaccinated people to refrain from pre-pandemic activities, unquote.

Do you agree? Is it unreasonable?

GUPTA: You know, I read that piece and I don't think it's unreasonable. I think it was a little more nuanced what he was saying. The risk to individuals may be low but the risk to society is still high, again because of what is happening right now. If we were to look at this as a weather event, we're in the middle of a significant storm.

And so, those same measures that she's talking about that are always applicable but in the middle of a storm, they're particularly important is the point she's trying to make.

TAPPER: President Biden made some news today. He announced he's doubling the U.S. government's order of Pfizer's new COVID antiviral drug, but the pills will not be available for months. What do Americans need to know about this?

GUPTA: This is a really interesting story here because I think, you know, this is a very effective therapeutic for COVID. I mean, if you look at the data around this, and I pulled some of that again. You know, you talk about 88 percent effectiveness at keeping people out of the hospital.

The problem is that, you know, overall, if you look at the number of doses ordered, I think you got 20 million ordered but 10 million, roughly, are said to be delivered by the end of June. Initial shipments, Jake, you can see there, small. Just 265,000 doses this month.

So if you just think about it, you know, if it's as effective as it is, you have that many people who are developing COVID, some who have symptoms that are at risk of hospitalization, it's not likely there will be enough at a time when it's most needed. That's the concern. We get to summer and we can already anticipate the number is going to be much lower. The demand will be lower.

So, we wish we would have had this much sooner but nevertheless, future possible variants, things like that, this could be a very effective drug.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

The traffic nightmare that will not end. Hundreds of drivers spending hours in the same spot on the same highway, including a U.S. senator and former governor.

Then, breaking news, CNN has learned the January 6th Committee is going to ask Fox personality and Trump whisperer Sean Hannity to cooperate with the committee.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the national lead, too much snow too fast and crews could not keep up. That's at least how Virginia transportation officials today tried to explain this nightmare you're looking at right now. Drivers stranded in a nearly 50-mile stretch of I-95 between D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. Some stuck there for nearly 24 hours.

Though, to be clear, weather reports Sunday predicted heavy snowfall coming. Think about it. Think about what it was like for these drivers, many with no food, no water, no bathroom the entire time.

As CNN's Pete Muntean reports, parts of the stretch are still a mess right now.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The backup on one of the busiest stretches of highway on the East Coast stretched more than 40 miles for hours. Stranded drivers moved only inch by inch after 14 inches of snow fell near Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Isaac Arcos shot this video of icy I-95 stuck for seven hours.

ISAAC ARCOS, STUCK ON I-95: Since I was at a stop still and it was cold, I had to conserve my gas to be able to stay warm. So I turned off my car every maybe hour and turned it back on every 15 minutes. I tried -- I tried to rest my head as much as I could, but there was no resting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have never been this frightened on the road before.

MUNTEAN: State officials still do not know exactly how many got stuck in this chain-reaction of jackknifed tractor trailers and out of control cars. One trucker microwaved a meal for the car stranded next to him. Another driver traveling from Florida even handed a stranded Senator Tim Kaine an orange.

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): I'm now 27 hours into my journey. I once did this by bicycle. And it took me 13 hours. So it's going to take me 27 or 28 by car. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

MUNTEAN: State officials are apologizing to drivers but insist that crews could not have possibly kept up with the quick clip of the snowfall. Crews decided not to pre-treat the interstate, underscoring the storm started as rain, which would have washed the solution away.

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: We've been working on this through the night. We have the resources that we need, so that being VDOT, Virginia state police, a lot of tow trucks on the scenes.

MUNTEAN: State officials called the backup enormous and unacceptable. Not enough for the countless drivers stuck in one of this snowstorm's scariest scenes.

THERESA SYKES, TRUCK DRIVER STUCK ON I-95: (INAUDIBLE) from St. Louis called me and told me what was about to happen. How is it that they did not realize what was about to happen?


MUNTEAN (on camera): We just caught up with Senator Tim Kaine who just made it to his office in Capitol Hill. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAINE: You know, it was kind of a survival challenge and everybody is doing, how do you keep yourself warm? So it's kind of -- you have to figure out the strategy. It's like turn on the heater full blast. Heat the car up. Turn it off and then try and catch some sleep and about 20 or 30 minutes, it gets so cold in the car, you have to do that again.


MUNTEAN: Jake, just to put into context, the backup behind me. We're six miles from where I-95 south officially shuts down, 22 miles away from the bulk of where all these issues are. By the way, Jake, VDOT says the goal is to open up I-95 by tomorrow morning's rush. It's important to note here, no deaths, no injuries -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

Let's bring in Jim DeFede. He was stuck on I-95 in Virginia for more than 27 hours, made it to a nearby hotel. He's also an investigative reporter and friend of the show. He's with a CNN affiliate WFOR in Miami.


Jim, great to see you. I'm so glad you're warm and safe.

So, you were headed south from New York during this storm. Take us through what you went through.

JIM DEFEDE, SPENT 24+ HOURS ON I-95: Well, I've done this drive many times. I grew up in Brooklyn. My family is still in Brooklyn. I like to drive back and forth from Miami to Brooklyn and I was on my way home after the holidays.

And this is a trip that altogether should only take about 22 hours. I ended up being 27 hours in the car and I'm still far away. But once you hit -- once I hit Quantico on I-95, the entire interstate ground to a halt. And when I say ground to a halt, I mean all three lanes of traffic just stopped. No movement. Not an inch. Not ever for 18 hours. For 18 hours we sat there not knowing what was going on.

You know, it wasn't until about hour 15 that we started getting alerts on our phone to tell us that help is on the way eventually. But it was a little too late by then.

What you saw, though, and what heartened me was, you saw really the goodness of people. You can't speak enough about truck drivers. You know, I got woken up at 7:00 a.m. with a tap on my window, when somebody -- when a truck driver came up with a case of water he had in his rig and came along and was handing them out to people and wanted to know if I had -- I took a bottle of water.

About two hours later, an individual was walking up and down the I-95 with loaves of bread. He had decided he had been parked behind a bread truck, called the owner of that bread truck and the owner of the bread truck then contacted the driver and said open up the doors. Let them take whatever they want and they started distributing loaves of bread to people.

So it was the kindness of strangers that kept us through it. Not the efficiency of any state official.

TAPPER: Literally, biblical, the water and loaves for the masses. You took a screen shot of the alert you got from VDOT, the Virginia department of transportation saying, I-95 drivers, state and local coming ASAP with supplies and to move you.

So how long did it take after VDOT sent that message to see anyone who could actually help you?

DEFEDE: It was about four hours later and the Prince William County fire rescue department that came up from behind and was literally pulling cars backwards down the wrong way on the interstate to an exit and getting us off that way. They ended up turning my car around, so I ended up driving northbound in the southbound lanes to get to an exit. But even once you got off I-95 they forced you back on to I-95 northbound and I spent another two hours on that before I finally got off I-95 entirely and drove to Manassas.

I figured the furthest I can get from I-95 the best. I'll spend the night here and we'll figure it out tomorrow.

TAPPER: And, Jim, we heard from Senator Tim Kaine who went through the same thing you did, except going in the other direction. He said at a certain point it went from being the worst commute of his life, the worst transportation experience of his life to literally a survival experience where he was just trying to stay warm enough, conserve enough energy, stay alive. I mean, how scared were you?

DEFEDE: The thing that scared me more than anything was whether or not I was going to run out of gas because then I was going to get stuck. And I didn't want to ever get out of my car because the road was a sheet of ice. My fear was that if I got out of the car and if I saw some people did it and they were slipping and sliding. But if they were to fall, crack their head, there was no way to get any ambulance to them.

So I heard the report that said no one was injured. No deaths. That's great. But that's just -- that's just dumb luck at this point. This could have been a lot more serious.

And the fact that the governor and VDOT officials are saying that this was unexpected or they couldn't really account for it just seemed crazy to me since the snow stopped falling many, many, many hours before I even got to that point in Virginia where I got stuck. And the snow stopped by early afternoon. I didn't get off of I-95 until almost noon the next day.

TAPPER: Yeah. That's not going to cut it. We're going to need to hear more from Governor Northam and from the head of VDOT to find out what went so wrong, how it went so wrong, and how to make sure it never, never happens again.

Jim DeFede, we're so glad you're okay. Thanks so much for joining us. Fox personality and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity is about to get an

important letter from the January 6th Select House Committee. A member of that committee will join us live, next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Breaking news in our politics lead. Sources confirming to CNN, the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection plans to send a letter to Fox host Sean Hannity asking him to cooperate with its probe into the deadly attack. This was first reported by "Axios".

Let's get straight to CNN's Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill.

Ryan, we know Hannity is a close Trump ally. What might he reveal?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the committee wants to know specifically what conversations he might have had with either the former president or even his closest advisers in and around the events leading up to and on January 6th. And we know that the committee already knows about some of those interactions because it was part of their contempt report against the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows where Hannity was sending texts to meadows begging him to convince the former president to urge his supporters to leave the Capitol.


So we know that Hannity and Donald Trump have a very close relationship. Some have described him as being a shadow chief of staff. So, those communications he had with the former president, the role he may have played, whether it be spreading the big lie or even plans around these rallies and the certification of the election results on January 6th are all of high interest to the committee.

Now at this point, Jake, they are not forcing him to come before them. This is not a legal request that they're making. It's a voluntary one. They'd like him to do so on his own accord. They're sending him a letter asking him. His attorney Jay Sekulow telling CNN that they've not received that correspondence yet.

Sekulow has said he's already concerned about the impact this could have on Hannity's First Amendment rights, but at this point, the committee is not talking about his broadcast. They want to know specifically about his conversations with the president and his staff in and around the events of January 6th.

TAPPER: Right. And, according to the committee what Hannity texts, just to be clear was, quote, can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol. That's the text he sent to Mark Meadows.

Ryan, we're also learning that the committee has not ruled out a subpoena for Donald Trump? NOBLES: Yeah, that's right. And they made that very clear from the

very beginning of this investigation. That there is no one that's above the reach of their inquiry and they're reiterating this just a couple of days before the anniversary of January 6th, you know?

Of course, the former president is a key player in all of this investigation and there's still serious questions, Jake, as to what role he played and whether there was any specific coordination between the riot itself and the president's actions and they also want to know about what he didn't do as the riot was taking place.

And these are all questions they want answered -- Jake.

TAPPER: Right Nobles, thanks so much.

Let's discuss all this with Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California who is on the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection. You just heard about Jay Sekulow saying that he's concerned about this request from your committee. Not a subpoena, but a request to speak with Sean Hannity, an infringement on his First Amendment rights.

What's your response? What information do you want from Mr. Hannity?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, we're not asking about his broadcasts or anything to do with his press activity. He is a fact witness. We are having -- have in our possession dozens of texts that he sent to Mark Meadows and others in his role as a parapolitical operative, indications of his communications with the president and others on strategy. And it's that that we would like to talk to him about.

I want to make sure that everyone knows this isn't a subpoena. We've asked him to cooperate with us as a fact witness out of his sense of patriotism, and we hope that he will respond because we have so many of these texts and pieces of evidence indicating that he was outside of his role as a press person acting as a political operative.

TAPPER: When you say that, I mean, the committee has already released one of his texts which was basically asking Meadows, is it possible for the president to go out and tell people to leave the Capitol in the middle of this. Are there other subjects that he talks about when it comes to the entire campaign that Donald Trump and his allies wage?

LOFGREN: Yes. Yes, there are. We have in our possession, as I say, dozens of texts relating to a variety of subjects, the plotting on the 6th, strategy about White House counsel and the like, and we'd like to ask him about that. It's not about his broadcasts or his political views or anything of that nature.

TAPPER: There are other folks on Fox and other MAGA media channels that had relations -- close relationships with people in the White House and, in fact, we know Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade and others were texting Mark Meadows asking if he could call off the mob from the Capitol.

Are you requesting conversations with any of them as well? LOFGREN: Well, I don't want to get into what we're going to do next.

As you know, we're following all of the threads that have emerged to find the full facts. Nothing is off limits in terms of our inquiry. But we do wish to get a complete picture to present to the American people, but also to inform us as we look at potential legislation that would prevent something like this from happening again.

TAPPER: We heard the vice chair of the select committee investigating the insurrection, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, accuse President Trump of supreme dereliction of duty. We asked a national security lawyer, Carrie Cordero, yesterday about that. She said it would be very hard to make a case for dereliction of duty against Donald Trump. Maybe an obstruction case would be easier to prove.

You're a lawyer. What do you think?

LOFGREN: Well, our committee is a legislative committee. We're not prosecutors.


So that's for a different part of government, the Department of Justice to decide. I will say this, putting aside the criminal code, he didn't do the right thing. He took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And he failed to do that for many hours while the Capitol was under attack. That wasn't the right thing to do.

TAPPER: It was one year ago today, so two days before the actual insurrection, that Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley went on Fox and said this.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Look, pin you down on what you're trying to do. You know, are you trying to say that as of January 20th, that President Trump will be president?

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Well, that depends on what happens on Wednesday. I mean, this is why we have the debate. This is why we have the votes.

BAIER: No, it doesn't. The states, by the Constitution, say they certify the election. They did certify it.


TAPPER: Bret Baier was right there and Senator Hawley was wrong. I've heard a lot of Republicans blame Hawley and Senator Ted Cruz for giving hope to the MAGA mob that ended up storming the Capitol that it was possible that, if action was taken, that Trump would actually be reinstated or kept as president.

Are you looking at the role of fellow lawmakers in the lead up to the attack? LOFGREN: Well, we're looking at everything. But I think it's really

quite sad that people who stormed the Capitol were lied to. They believed that lie. And they took action based on that lie.

Many of them are paying a very heavy price for that now. But, you know, those who lied to them need also to look in the mirror and see what role they played in undermining our system of government, our constitution, our democracy.

In the end, it's up to the American people to decide what kind of government they want. Do they want to preserve and defend our constitutional republic or do they want to slide into a different form of government?

And I can't hold Senator Hawley to account as a member of the House committee but certainly the people of Missouri can ask him just what the heck he thought he was doing.

TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to what your fellow Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego said on CNN earlier today. Take a listen.


REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): I think Merrick Garland has been extremely weak, and I think there should be a lot more of the organizers of January 6th that should be arrested by now.


TAPPER: We have seen hundreds of rioters who have been arrested but no one who organized any of the day's events. What do you think?

LOFGREN: Well, I am not in the position to know what's in the wings in the Department of Justice. Quite properly, they don't share with the public their investigations or who they are going to indict next.

I mean, the rule for prosecutors is, if you have something, indict. If you don't, don't say anything.

So I don't know what the Department of Justice is doing. I hope they're being vigorous and aggressive in hauling before court those who need to be held to account. And all I can say is our committee is working as hard as we possibly can to bring all the information forward to recommend legislation and to lay out the story for the American people. And if we find information that the Department of Justice may not have, we'll send it to them, and they can do their job. But we're doing ours right now, Jake.

TAPPER: Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, thank you so much. Happy New Year to you.

And this Thursday, join us for special coverage from inside the Capitol with police, lawmaker, political leaders. I'm going to be joined by Anderson Cooper for live coverage of January 6th, one year later. That starts at 8:00 p.m. eastern this Thursday, only on CNN.

Could a zoom call stop war from breaking out? World leaders hope their conversations might prevent Vladimir Putin from getting what he wants.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead, a, quote, extraordinary meeting this week of NATO leaders hoping to stop Russia's feared invasion of Ukraine. The top diplomatic officials from the 30 member nations will meet Friday to address Russia's troop build up along Ukraine's border just days before the next round of scheduled talks between the U.S. and Russia.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins us now live.

Now, as NATO says the meeting is extraordinary. How so?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, in that it's not long planned. It was just announced today, it's going to take place on Friday virtually. It really does emphasize the full-court press the U.S. and its allies are putting on Russia to try to get it to dissuade Russia from invading Ukraine.

This will be an opportunity on Friday for the U.S. and NATO allies to get on the same page about how to do that. And it sets up those conversations that are due to take place next week. It's a series of conversations to try to influence Russia. They kick off on Monday in Geneva. Of course, that's where that summit between Putin and Biden took place last year, last summer. That will be directly between the U.S. and Russia.

The State Department says that the conversations there will focus narrowly on issues directly involving the U.S. and Russia that they hoped to come out of that with a few ideas, a few issues where they're on the same page to continue the discussions. Then, Jake, the conversations get broadened. A couple days later, they're going to meet in Brussels. The NATO/Russia Council, as it's called, will be meeting. That will expand to include all of the NATO countries.


And then the following day, it will expand farther, for a third set of conversations with the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. So, Jake, all that to say that there are these three channels, three tracks of conversations to ultimately try to prevent and deter Russia from invading Ukraine.

TAPPER: So, Biden has already taken off the table unilateral U.S. deployment of troops to Ukraine. So what options will the U.S. have, will NATO have if these diplomatic meetings to resolve this build-up fail?

MARQUARDT: Well, ahead of a Russian invasion, in order to prevent them from doing that, hat the U.S. can do is rattle the saber, put more U.S. troops in eastern European countries, in NATO countries that are close to Russia. They can send warships into the Black Sea, continue sending U.S. aircraft into Eastern Ukraine.

So really show that U.S. military might and show that NATO is behind Ukraine even if Ukraine is not a member and, of course, Jake, they can continue to emphasize what would be devastating economic sanctions if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

A member of the British royal family, a young woman connected to Jeffrey Epstein, and a sexual assault allegation. A judge will be weighing in soon on this dramatic legal battle.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, a judge saying he'll decide soon whether a sexual assault lawsuit should be dismissed against Britain's Prince Andrew. Andrew, of course, the second son of Queen Elizabeth.

His case has ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted pedophile who authorities say killed himself in prison in 2019. Prince Andrew's accuser is a woman named Virginia Roberts Giuffre. She claims Epstein trafficked her and forced him to have sex with his friends, including the prince, three times, when she was underage.

Prince Andrew denied this in a much-criticized 2019 BBC interview. Watch.


INTERVIEWER: Are you saying you don't believe her? She's lying?

PRINCE ANDREW, DUKE OF YORK: That's a very difficult thing to answer because I'm not in a position to know what she's trying to achieve.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN royal correspondent Max Foster.

Max, it was a settlement unsealed yesterday between Giuffre and Epstein, that led to Prince Andrew's attorneys in court. What's their argument?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: So the fact that it was secret is really fundamental to the case here as we learned today. So this was an agreement between Giuffre and Epstein that she wouldn't pursue or sue anyone connected with Epstein who could be potential defendants.

So, Andrew's side are arguing he is one of those potential defenders. Giuffre's side is saying he doesn't qualify as a third party to this agreement. So they're disagreeing on whether this agreement should be part of the case in New York. Where it got interesting today during the hearing was when the judge

appeared to be leaning towards Giuffre's argument by saying this was a secret agreement between Giuffre and Epstein. So only one of those two could enforce it because they were the only ones that knew about it and that was intentional.

So, therefore, Prince Andrew can't enforce this agreement, therefore, he can't bring it in to this case in New York. So it does feel as if the judge is leaning towards Giuffre's argument here and it could continue into potentially a trial in September and it may not be dismissed. But the judge will rule on that very soon.

TAPPER: Today's hearing also comes just a few days after the guilty verdict for Epstein's former partner, Ghislaine Maxwell. Is Buckingham palace concerned at all that Maxwell's conviction might lead to charges against Prince Andrew in anyway?

FOSTER: Let's just say they're very concerned behind the scenes. Nothing on the record. On the record, Buckingham Palace, the family is staying well clear of this. A monarchy can't be seen to get involved or interfering of with any judicial process.

But no doubt, this is having a huge impact, all of this, on the royal brand. Ultimately, it's a brand and it relies on trust and Maxwell was a very, very close friend of Prince Andrew for a very long time, going back to 2000, if not before.

TAPPER: All right. Max Foster, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up -- one year after the insurrection, and the Capitol Hill police force is down 400 officers. What might that mean for protecting democracy?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD.

President Biden pleads with parents to get their kids vaccinated and says schools should stay opened. But are school districts and teachers unions on board?

Plus, gearing up for more Democratic infighting. How party leadership plans to pressure some Democrats to pass election reform.

And leading our show this hour, Capitol Police this afternoon assuring Americans the force is stronger and better prepared to carry out its mission than it was on January 6th, 2021. The U.S., of course, is on edge with fears of more violence on the horizon as the nation nears the one-year anniversary of the deadly insurrection.

This comes as the U.S. Capitol Police chief is warning that the force is still 400 officers short of full operating capacity. In part due to resignations and retirements following last January 6th.

As CNN's Paula Reid reports for us, the trauma of what happened on January 6th, 2021 is still very real for many officers still on the Capitol police force.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Just days before the anniversary of the January 6th insurrection, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger addressed the current state of his embattled department.